Luke Gazdic is one of the younger players who have been skating at the team’s practice facility in Frisco, but when he hits the ice at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan next weekend the big left wing will be a veteran.
“It’s my fourth year,” Gazdic said after getting off the ice in Frisco this past week. “I remember when I was just a little guy at 17 and it’s been a couple of years there now.”
No one describes Gazdic, a sixth round pick in 2007, as a little guy these days. The Stars have him listed as 6-3, 226 pounds. The physical winger is coming off his first season in pro hockey, most of it spent with the Texas Stars. He had three goals, one assist and 155 penalty minutes in 49 games. Those 155 penalty minutes were second among AHL rookies.
Gazdic described his first year in the pros as a roller coaster season. He missed time at the beginning of the season after injuring his shoulder in a fight during a Dallas Stars preseason game. That injury bothered him most of the season and it caused him to miss the Calder Cup playoffs. He had surgery to correct the problem in early May.
“It was definitely an experience, adjusting to the pace and the level of the pro game,” Gazdic said in an interview during the Texas Stars run to the Calder Cup Finals. “Overall, I had a great time and it was a great learning experience. But it was definitely a rollercoaster season for me.”
Part of that rollercoaster ride included being sent to the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. Texas sent him there so he could get extra ice time. He picked up one goal, one assist and ten penalty minutes in four games before getting called back up to the AHL.
“Our team struggled without him here. He’s a well-liked guy by his teammates, willing to stick up for them obviously. As the season went on we got him more ice time,” said Texas coach Glen Gulutzan. “He’s going to be an interesting guy. He’s got all the attributes that those role players have and he’s a good team guy. You can even see his offensive side. He’s goes to the net and he can really shoot the puck. He’s got to work on a few things like any young guy, but our team really missed him when he wasn’t here.”
Gazdic is best known for his willingness to drop the gloves. Stars fans saw that last preseason when he played three games and got in three fights. He was tied for eighth in the AHL in fighting majors last season according to hockeyfights.com, and was tops among all league rookies.
But the 21-year-old Toronto native said to enhance his chances of advancing his career he’ll have to shore up other parts of his game. He said the big knock on him has been his skating. He’s constantly working to improve in that area and it’s paid some dividends. He’s working to improve his shot as well. Gazdic hopes the work will help him carve out a role at the NHL level one day.
“I’m going to be a third or fourth line guy and I just keep it simple. I want to be a guy that you know what you are going to get from me every time you put me on the ice, and that’s a big, hardworking winger that gets the puck out in his end, gets the puck in at the other end and battles hard,” he said. “I’ll mix it up if push comes to shove. I am definitely not afraid in that aspect of the game. I also want to chip in every couple games with a goal or an assist. That’s one area where I’d really like to round out my game.”
Gazdic never gets a mention when the experts rank the Stars’ top prospects, but the Stars see potential and liked what they saw in his first season at the professional level.
“He’s made some good steps and he’s a willing combatant when it comes to fighting. For a young kid he’s come in and done well in that area. He needs to add some skating polish and leg strength,” said Les Jackson, the Stars Director of Scouting and Player Development. “For the first year it was encouraging to see how much he improved. He’s a character kid and he’s willing to work. For these kinds of players, that’s how they find their way. I suspect this season we’ll see another step in him. I think this kid has a real good chance to advance.”
Gazdic will try to take another step towards advancement this season. He’ll get started next weekend in Michigan at the NHL Prospects Tournament, which runs September 11-15. He’s fully recovered from the shoulder surgery and got medical clearance to play in the tournament last week. It will give him a head start on training camp, and he’s looking forward to it.
“It’s a great way to kick start the year,” Gazdic said. “It gets you in shape because it’s a fast pace. Everyone wants to play well and it’s such a fun environment. All the prospects are there and it’s a good way to get everything going.”